An Expedition into Mae Marsh

A few inadequate words in memory of screen actress Mae Marsh (Mary Wayne Marsh, 1894-1968).

Critics hailed Marsh as one of the finest actresses of the silent era, in a league with Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish, though she came to the screen with no stage experience or training. Her older sister was already in films at Biograph. Mae began to work there as an extra in 1910. By 1912, D.W. Griffith was entrusting her with proper roles, and she is prominent in such well remembered classics The Battle of Elderbush Gulch (1913), Judith of Bethulia (1913), The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916). She also starred in some Biograph pictures for Griffith and other directors, such as The Sands of Dee (1912), Moonshine Molly (1914), Meg of the Mines (1914), Hoodoo Ann (1916), The Marriage of Molly-O (1916), and The White Rose (1923). For Samuel Goldwyn she starred in such films as Polly of the Circus (1917), Sunshine Alley (1917), The Cinderella Man (1917), The Bondage of Barbara (1919) and Spotlight Sadie (1919). At Warner Brothers, Daddies (1924) paired her with Harry Myers. The 1925 British film The Rat, opposite Ivor Novello, was her last starring vehicle.

She left films for a time when sound came in, but resumed her career. Initially she had good sized roles, as in Over the Hill (1931), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1932), and Bachelor of Arts (1934). But the untrained silent actress had trouble with lines. She spent the remainder of her career for the next three decades as a bit player and extra. In the sound era, she is primarily associated with John Ford, who put her in Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), Three Godfathers (1948), The Quiet Man (1952), The Searchers (1956), Sergeant Rutledge (1960), Two Rode Together (1961), Donovan’s Reef (1963), and Cheyenne Autumn (1964). Other classic she can be spotted in include Tobacco Road (1941), Belle Starr (1941), The Meanest Man in the World (1943), Jane Eyre (1943), Buffalo Bill (1944), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), State Fair (1945), The Dolly Sisters (1945), The Fighting Kentuckian (1949), The Gunfighter (1950), The Robe (1953), Titanic (1953), and A Star is Born (1954).

In her 40+ year career, Marsh amassed over 200 screen credits.

For more on silent film, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,